New Travelers: Philosophia Naturalis #14

Fifty years ago today, the first tiny step was taken off planet.

We may be more introspective nowadays, but we sure know how to Have Fun 2.0
Here is a selection of finds from the blogosphere, trawled up over the last few weeks. Some of these were sent in, some I picked as good examples of blog posts on physical science or related issues in the last month or so.


The launch of Sputnik, fifty years ago today, inspired a generation of scientists and spurred a renaissance in science, education and technological development.

Quantum Pontiff celebrates a great historical event

Astronomy was a major beneficiary of the new interest in space.

There have been good practical reasons to do astronomy even before the Space Race, Backreaction: welcome to autumn

Harvest Moon - not Obscured by Clouds

Getting off planet was a good first step, but since then we have found that there are planets around other stars, and we keep looking.
Systemic in the classroom - now find your own planet

Leaves on the Line: Google Sky - first check the literature to see which are the known planets.

Phil checks out the local real estate in Bad Astronomy.

Galaxies, and the stars in them are also interesting.
Doctor Science goes to the Zoo!

Dave at Superwinds explains why the first shall be the second

Science and Reason: Stars of the Serpent I just really liked the picture.

But we must not forget the old favourites in the neighbourhood.
Bad Astronomy: No Liquid Water, on Mars, Now

A lot of people are working hard to research how all this came about.
Powers of Four: messes with sub-planetary masses in a mysterious way. This is a very interesting, if slightly obscure, blog entry, unfortunately only seven people in the world understand it right now.

That doesn't mean we know it all, yet. Got to keep looking.
Louise - A Babe in the Universe - reports on an extraordinary energy burst of unknown origin, captain.

Paul at Centauri Dreams also finds it odd. That is because it is odd. Very odd.
Strange radio blips in the sky do that to people and can drive great social change.

There are things we do know, really.
Rob at Galactic Interactions looks at the big picture.

The Astroprof reflects on the Good Old Days.

Sputnik! - Before his time says Professor Astronomy.


Physics was already on a roll by the time Sputnik flew, but the surge in political concern boosted research to new levels.

First Law: hot to cold - says Arunn at nOnoscience

Charles at Science and Reason looks at the rise of the hard disk - you wouldn't be reading this if not for the amazing, physics driven, developments of disk capacity and increasing information density.

We are always looking ahead to the next tech, and the physics that enables it.
Chad reports the movement of qubits

Backreaction, as Bee gets metaphysical on communication

Cocktail Party Physics: LIDAR
Hm, Jennifer and Sean at Cosmic Variance have been very quiet in recent weeks...

F at Space Files made some deductions from data

Some Sheilas plagiarize Scott Aaronson down under. This is the sort of thing that only happens to other people.

Blake at Science after Sunclipse gets entangled in brain issues. Click through to the backstory.

Unseen member frets about typicality assumptions

Jacob at Winter's Haven ponders priors

Peter at Not Even Wrong channels Steinhardt on String Theory

Mayhaps there be Monsters out there?

Tommaso - a Quantum Diaries survivor - explores the excitement of scalar fields and Big Iron particle physics

"nothing to see here" - Lubos ponders rumours at a Reference Frame

One of the world's top media outlets unpeels the hype and reveals the essence of the physics
Now do you understand?

Matilde and Alain don't commute, but they YouTube'd Quantum Field Theory


"There were these six physicist, in a room...". Peter talks TV


Clifford reports Dawn rising in the west

Coming full circle, Keith at NASAwatch tells us that science is about to enter politics - it is Indecision '08

"Well, at least the war on science is going well" - as they say at Wired

The 22nd Carnival of Space was found Wandering in Space

Some Unsolicited Advice:

Astro Dyke tells us how to give a shitty talk

Think Again says the Q Pontiff

One of the major effects of Sputnik was a surge in graduate education in the physical sciences in the US. There has been significant falloff in recent years, but there are still some grads out there.
Cosmic Variance: how to be a good graduate student - each one of course is unique, and different, sometimes by many standard deviations.

It isn't always easy. Barb the Galaxy Girl looks at the PhD from the other side

The academic job market in the physical sciences has ranged from poor to horrendous in the last 30 or so years, after the initial surge in hiring post-Sputnik.
Not sustainable. But, there are still some jobs out there, and an eternal promise of temporary improvement in the market as post-Sputnik hires retire.
Cosmic Variation on a theme: how to apply for a faculty job

Incoherent Ponderer: faculty positions? what faculty positions?

Doug at Nanoscale primes us for those faculty positons there may be out there some day

Just in case, the Female Science Professor tells us how to write the perfect rejection letter

Information Processing: future crisis

Stay tuned for future Philosophia Naturalis...

and finally, GrrlScientist gets her species crossed


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When I was told, October 1957, at a cocktail party with my parents, that the Russians had launched an artificial satellite, I burst into tears.

My parents had their degrees in English Literature, Cum Laude and Magna Cum Laude, from Northwestern and Harvard. My Dad had taken Astronomy from Prof. Fred Lawrence Whipple, the first scientist to describe comets as "dirty snowballs".

My parents worked as book editors in New York, so my home was filled with some 5,000 books. These included Astronomy and Science Fiction. My father published many MANY famous science fiction authors.

Hence all my parents' friends knew that I was deeply interested, perhaps even obsessed with space travel. Even though many dismissed it as "that Buck Rogers stuff" or that "Flash Gordon stuff."

"Why are you crying, Jonny," asked my informant. "I thought you'd be so happy."

"Because," I said, "I wanted to do it first."

Sputnik made me who I am today: a man who worked two decades in the aerospace industry and the space program, hanging out with astronauts and moonwalkers, professional science fiction author, and former Adjunct professor of Astronomy.

It was a great gift for America that bad decisions by Ike let Sputnik beat us in the first round of the space race. That led to our winning the main round -- Man on Moon -- and then falling apart.

Sputnik was the absolute high point in the 70 year trajectory of the USSR, the inflection point when their rate of growth of GNP and world influence peaked.

Sputnik thus led to the end of the Cold War. The good news is: the Cold War is over. The bad news is: the Cold War is over.

Science and Engineering and Math are running into the Bush War on Science, Creationism rebranded as Intelligent Design, and the vigorous Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and European space programs.

When my son, middle aged and rich, takes a vacation trip to the Moon, will his passport have to stamped by Chinese or Indian bureaucrats?

As someone back in graduate school for the first time in 34 years, it is clear to me that the educational revolution in the USA, triggered by Sputnik, has petered out. Our public schools have utterly failed.

Please, China, land a man or woman on the moon, and get us back to the future, with a new Space Race.